Jerome S. Bruner

One of America’s most prominent educational theorists, Jerome S. Bruner has made man significant contributions to the field of education. Born in New York City in 1915, Bruner started out his career as a psychologist known for his versatility and insight (Palmer, 2001). Bruner studied at both Duke and Harvard, his first paper being published in 1939 (Palmer, 2001). America education theory has mostly been influenced by psychology, with Bruner at the forefront. Burner was groundbreaking when delving into the subject of how children learn and how educators meet the needs of children (Palmer, 2001).

Bruner was interested in the process of discovery. Bruner was concerned about the ways in which individuals obtained new information, using their mind (Allen, 1968). Bruner advocated for giving students a firm grasp of basic knowledge, hopefully, giving them the ability and motivation to discover more about this topic outside the school setting (Allen, 1968). Bruner believed that discovery is broken up into four components; intellectual potency, the shift from extrinsic to intrinsic rewards, learning the process of discovery, and memory processing (Allen, 1968). The desired end result of these processes is for a child to develop his or her own approach to problem solving. Bruner himself states “this problem of learning by discovery is the kind that guarantees a child will use what he has learned effectively” (Allen, 1968). Bruner’s theory is that students will not only learn content in the classroom. He advocates that the art and ability to come up with individual ideas on a subject result in having a firm grasp of the content to solve problems that may arise outside the classroom.

Bruner studied the structure of thought (Ivie, 1996). The structure of thought is the idea that each field of study is based on a core concept of ideas and that these ideas provide the structure for which the field of study is organized (Ivie, 1996). In other words it is easier to understand a field if we can see the key ideas. By learning these key ideas we can put dense facts into organized generalizations (Ivie, 1996). As educators this is very important. If educators can define what the key ideas are, then we can place all facts into these key ideas. In other words any fact can be categorized into one key idea. This will give teachers the ability to organize information and allow the study of content to become much effective.

Bruner is also known for his three forms of representation including action, icons, and symbols. This means that people convert reality into their own unique interpretation of reality through action, icons and symbols (Presno, 1997). Bruner described the application of the representations using stimulus-response theory results in the “state of doing” by the student (Presno, 1997). The problem with this approach is that educators often lack the knowledge of what the key images or words that initiate action among students (Presno, 1997). The key result of his theory is that it is “that it is the teacher’s job to help the learner find the most economical and powerful ways to represent their world and in turn become independent problem solvers” (Presno, 1997).

The concept of the readiness to learn was another contribution to the field of education theory. Bruner believed that children were ready to master certain academic content much earlier that anyone had ever thought before (Mehlinger, 1999). Bruner argued that there was not a timer that dictated the development of children, rather, children respond to influences in their environment, especially the school environment (Mehlinger, 1999). Bruner challenged what was known about cognitive development about children and challenge the students with opportunities for move forward in their development (Mehlinger, 1999). This theory presents a challenge for teachers to change their curriculum. Instead of relying on presenting information that adheres to the developmental stages of children, Bruner advocated for early introduction of ideas and concept to initiate earlier learning.

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